Protesters chant anti-Osprey slogans during a rally outside the Okinawa Defense Bureau in Kadena town, Okinawa, Dec. 4, 2023.

Protesters chant anti-Osprey slogans during a rally outside the Okinawa Defense Bureau in Kadena town, Okinawa, Dec. 4, 2023. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

KADENA TOWN, Okinawa — Hundreds of protesters rallied against a controversial tiltrotor aircraft Monday, hours before the Air Force announced that remains had been found within wreckage from last week’s Osprey crash in southwestern Japan.

More than 200 people demonstrated in front of the Okinawa Defense Bureau’s headquarters in Kadena town to protest the V-22 Osprey, a helicopter-airplane hybrid that’s been a common sight over the prefecture for more than a decade.

The bureau represents Japan’s Ministry of Defense on the island.

A CV-22B — stationed at Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo and assigned to the 353rd Special Operations Wing — went down Wednesday with eight aboard in waters near Yakushima, an island in Kagoshima prefecture. Staff Sgt. Jacob “Jake” Galliher, 24, of Pittsfield, Mass., was recovered that afternoon unconscious and not breathing alongside an empty 20-person life raft and aircraft wreckage. He was later declared dead.

Additional remains and wreckage were discovered Monday by U.S. and Japanese drivers, according to a statement from Air Force Special Operations Command.

“Currently there is a combined effort in recovering the remains,” the command said. “The identities have yet to be determined at this time.”

At Monday’s rally, organized by anti-base movement All Okinawa, protesters chanted anti-Osprey slogans, gave speeches and delivered a letter to defense bureau officials demanding the aircraft be grounded pending the results of the crash investigation.

“It is so sad that another young American man’s life was sacrificed and others are still not found,” protest organizer Yuji Fukumoto shouted into a microphone. “Ospreys are still flying in Okinawa and all over Japan. We must strongly request once again not to fly them over us.”

After the crash, the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force grounded its fleet of 14 Ospreys; however, the U.S. military has continued to fly the tiltrotor, despite requests from Japanese officials to first confirm their safety.

“These Ospreys should not have been deployed at all,” Michiko Sakao, of Naha city, told Stars and Stripes at the rally. She carried an anti-Osprey sign with her that she’s used at protests since the aircraft arrived in Japan in 2012.

“It is so scary; it could have crashed in Kadena,” she said. “They must not fly and must be withdrawn.”

Chiyo Okuda, of Ginowan, called on the Japanese government to listen to the will of the Okinawan people.

“Before flying any more Ospreys, the accident’s cause must be identified,” she said. “Without that, they must not fly. It is about human lives.”

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Mari Higa is an Okinawa-based reporter/translator who joined Stars and Stripes in 2021. She previously worked as a research consultant and translator. She studied sociology at the University of Birmingham and Hitotsubashi University Graduate School of Social Sciences.
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Matthew M. Burke has been reporting from Okinawa for Stars and Stripes since 2014. The Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst alumnus previously covered Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for the newspaper. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times and other publications.

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